I had survived the first COVID wave last year with art as my only recourse. And to survive the second wave, I took refuge in literature, particularly fiction. With rising number of COVID cases, general indifference and influx of bad news and negative communication, the need for a strong distraction grew immensely. I knew that only nicely written detective novels or stories have the ability to engage the mind and keep it away from external influences. Another genre is horror; however, I am not very aware of literature in that genre, and have read only short stories. Anyway, coming back to detective novels, I had a good experience in the past from Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and innumerable stories published in Anandamela. Problem with detective stories is that there is no scope of re-reading. Once you have read a particular story, you already know who the culprit was and all the nitty-gritty of the crime. So another reading of the same story has no charm and nothing new to offer. I keep it in my mind that the first reading is going to be my only reading of the story and therefore try to give my full attention to it.
Here I would like to mention one small point. If you have read detective novels, you must have noticed that the stories are mainly of two types. In the first category, you would keep Sherlock Holmes and Hercules Poirot. Here, the crime or rather the problem is presented, the detective comes in, does ‘something’ or ‘some analysis’ and announces who the culprit is. In some cases, they would also ‘find out’ and tell to the readers the details or evidence which the latter were not even given in the first place. For example, the detective left early in the morning, went to couple of places, returned only in the evening and locked himself in his room, thinking. Throughout the story, the reader is merely a witness to the investigation process but has no involvement in it. On the other hand, there are stories like Miss Marple and to an extent Tommy And Tuppence by Agatha Christie. Here the whole problem alongwith all available details and evidence are presented to the reader at the beginning of the story itself. Very few, if any, new detail is added later on. Readers go along with the detective as she meets people, examines evidence and interrogates people. At no stage of the story is there any new detail. So, the readers are taken along with the detective, and they also attempt to solve the problem based on reasoning and arguments. Sometimes their conclusion matches with that of the detective, sometimes it doesn’t. But in all cases, there is a sense of involvement and satisfaction for having at least given it a try. Byomkesh Bakshi by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay interestingly belongs to both the categories. While some stories take the readers along with them, in others they are simply rushed on. Personally, I like the stories from the second category.
As I mentioned earlier, there is less point in re-reading detective stories. So my options were already narrowing down with each book that I read. This time, I picked up Kiriti Roy (Bengali) by Nihar Ranjan Gupta. The stories here belong to the first category. There are few interesting things about these stories. Kiriti is not a detective who has fallen from sky and is possessed with superhuman talents. He is told to be a student of science, and in several stories he does show his knowledge of Chemistry. Secondly, the narrative and description are simply awesome. Gupta mixes elements of suspense, thriller and description of natural environment to bring a perfect show of storytelling. There are very few philosophical bits, far less as compared to Holmes, Byomkesh or Miss Marple. So other than the story, you won’t gain anything else. Still, one can try it for simple pleasure and entertainment.
At places, Kiriti is an egotistic person, a quality seldom seen in other detectives. Holmes was too polite, Miss Marple was humble while Bakshi was charming. More than once you would hear Kiriti tell you that he has the ability to identify a person by the sound of his footsteps. Except a few stories, the takeaways from the book can already be found in other detective books. However as mentioned, there are a few new and unique problems. For example, in one story the culprit was the murdered scientist’s colleague and friend who wanted to steal the latter’s research work, i.e., publish his work under his own name.
In another story, a scientist named Roychoudhuri had discovered a medicine for leprosy. Though its efficacy hadn’t been proved yet, it had already created ripples in the global medical science community. He had a research assistant, around 5 years older to him and also a doctor, named Sanyal. Sanyal was very hard working, honest and humble person and he made exceptional contribution to the research work. Leave alone giving Sanyal credit and his due, Roychoudhuri instead used to humiliate and harass Sanyal, who because of his timid nature could not protest, and kept simmering within. At this point, a young researcher Sudhir Sarkar joined the group and started working on the problem. He had previously worked on N2O and had proposed that it could be used as an anaesthesia. Presently he was working on interaction of N2O and CHCl3. Sarkar was very outspoken and full of energy, quite opposite to Sanyal. He used to have several arguments with Roychoudhuri. Just as he had done with Sanyal, Roychoudhuri also tried to steal credit from Sarkar. The latter protested, unlike Sanyal, and threatened Roychoudhuri with dire consequences. Sanyal saw an opportunity of achieving something which he had always wanted but could never do himself. He was already aware of Sarkar’s work on N2O and CHCl3 and used this combination to kill Roychoudhuri. In this crime, he took help from Roychoudhuri’s old servant Sankar so that his version of story could get credibility. He had arranged everything in such a way that the suspicion and blame would fall on Sudhir Sarkar. The gas was passed to Roychoudhuri through telephone receiver.
Philosophical remarks or moral teachings are very few in this book. In one story, an old man who was a book publisher was murdered. While Kiriti solved the case, he also agreed with other characters in the story that the victim was not a good person and his end cannot be considered grievous. He added that the eldest son instead of concurring to and obeying his father’s commands, in spite of their being wrong and illogical, should have protested and opposed him. Being an obedient, loving and caring son respecting his parents is a good virtue, but it should not come into the way of justice, law and moral uprightness.
‘Kiriti Roy’ can be called a scientific fiction. Through this work, its author Nihar Ranjan Gupta, a dermatologist himself, has shown what literary marvels a scientist can create!
Title: Kiriti Roy
Author: Nihar Ranjan Gupta
Publisher: Mitra & Ghosh Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Hardcover: 200 pages
Price: ₹ 332
I also like the second category mentioned by you, i.e., getting an opportunity to solve the mystery alongside the detective character. The book reviewed by you appears to be quite a good one. Hope, your descriptions of various stories won’t work as spoilers for the prospective readers.